If you were acquainted with Dr. Tony Burton III a decade ago, you might not recognize him today.
That’s because Burton, the CEO of Northwest Child Development Centers, has reduced his body weight by two thirds. The former athlete, who tipped the scales at a whopping 650 pounds in 2004, now weighs in at under 240, a weight the six foot two father of three hasn’t seen since his middle school days.
“I’d always been big,” said the University of Tennesse at Martin alumnus. “I was a football player. In high school, I played at about 350 pounds.”
Burton remained active throughout his college career, playing football all four years as an undergrad, but after graduation, his physical activity waned, and his weight began to creep up.
“I was always a big eater,” related the Richmond, Va. native. “I just didn’t have the activity to take care of it.”
Despite his considerable stature, Burton said he was always mobile, confident and light on his feet, refusing to allow his weight to interfere with his life. Around 2002, Burton says his health began to suffer.
“I started developing high blood pressure, started having difficulty with my legs and back,” the 46 year-old recalled. “…I decided I needed to make a change in my life.”
Burton began to diet and exercise, but says the fluctuations in his weight only served to frustrate him. He consulted several physicians about pursuing more permanent weight loss solutions, but was advised against undergoing surgery because it was too risky for a man of his size, Burton said, noting that his chances of survival were around 50 percent.
After two years of prayer and deliberation, Burton decided the reward was well worth the risk. In April 2004, he underwent duodenal switch surgery, where a portion of the intestines and stomach are removed. It was the most drastic – and the most invasive – gastric bypass surgery offered at the time, and Burton says the challenges surfaced right away.
“Going into the surgery, I knew that there was a possibility that I was not going to come out of that surgery,” said Burton, adding that he died on the table and had to be revived during the procedure. “…They told my mom I wouldn’t walk out of there. They told me I wouldn’t walk out of there.”
But Burton was determined, and following an 11-day hospital stay – which included a week in intensive care – Burton did walk out, already a much thinner man.
“I lost 100 pounds before I even left the hospital, and I’ve been losing weight ever since then,” said Burton, who has since dropped more than 400 pounds. “…I’ve come a long way since 2004.”
Though the weight loss came quickly, Burton says his recovery was anything but easy. He suffered through bouts of nausea and vomiting and was forced to live in his basement for months because he couldn’t navigate the stairs in his two story home.
“My house had to be equipped like a hospital,” he recalled. “It was a difficult transition. You have to learn everything all over again. It was very difficult, especially in that first year.”
The road to good health included the adoption of a whole new diet, complete with a staggering regimen of vitamins to make up for the deficiencies duodenal switch patients experience as a result of the surgery. Burton, an avid cook, gradually took on a healthier lifestyle, embracing regular physical activity and improving his eating habits.
“I still love food,” he confessed. “Now, I’ve just learned how to – which is something that I think everybody wishes they could do – eat with moderation.”
Burton says his weight loss journey has reaped many benefits.
“It’s easier for me to get around now, of course, than it was then. I don’t have to worry now when I get on the plane if there’s going to be enough room, or if I can get in this car, or if this chair will hold me,” he said. “…I watched myself change, over time, back to who I was.”
Ben Henderson, a former principal who gave Burton his first job in education in the early 1990s, has witnessed the many changes that have taken place in his former employee with great zeal. Henderson, who worked in education for over 36 years, said he was shocked when he first saw his friend post surgery.
“He came over and I said, ‘Tony Burton, what have you done?’” related the Winston-Salem State University alumnus. “He had changed so. It was amazing. The couch I had, it was a two seater, and Tony used to take all of that. I said, ‘Tony Burton, you look good.’”
Burton, a former middle school teacher, has since remarried and now sits at the helm of what he regards as one of the most forward-thinking early childhood education organizations in the business. His demand for high standards – including state of the art technology and highly trained teachers – has won Burton, and the nonprofit, acclaim. Burton, who has led the organization for the past seven years, was recently recognized with honorary street signs bearing his name at two local intersections, and is poised to open NWCDC’s newest center, Mudpies Downtown East, on Aug. 26.
“I’m excited about that. That has been one of the biggest goals that I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Burton said of opening the center where his wife, Brittani Burton, will serve as assistant director. “…We’re excited about the opportunities that are going to be there for children. We’re going to have more technology in this facility than any other facility in the country, I’ll guarantee you that.”
Burton, who says a love of education was instilled in him by his parents at an early age, believes that Mudpies’ early childhood education model could set the tone for birth through five education nationwide and help reduce the number of high school dropouts – a stat that has been linked to a lack of education stimulation in students’ early years.
“I think we’re poised to be able to provide opportunities that better prepare kids for school, and that’s what our organization is all about,” he said. “If we can create those successes in children early, it carries over.”
Whether it’s success in his career or in keeping the weight off after nearly a decade, Henderson, 76, said it couldn’t have happened to a better person.
“I’m just really, really proud of him as I can be, and Tony’s not finished yet – he’s still rolling,” declared the grandfather of two. “This Mudpies opening up next month is just the beginning of what Tony Burton is capable of doing. He’s always reaching out a little further, and it’s always centered around helping families and providing opportunities for these kids.”
Mudpies Downtown East will celebrate its grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, Aug. 16 at noon. For more information, visit www.nwcdc.org. The center is still hiring teachers and teachers assistants. For more information, contact LaSheka Walker at 336-721-1215 or lwalker@nwcdc,org.